The Avalanche went into tonight’s game in Montreal after two hard-fought defeats in contests where they played great hockey yet earned nothing to show for it. The team’s mounting frustrations are visible as evidenced by Nathan MacKinnon’s outburst last time out. In this third game of a five-game road trip in the Great White North, the Avalanche were determined to get a win against the Habs.
Unfortunately, tonight’s game was not going to be the one to turn around this road skid. Tonight’s loss is the Avalanche’s ninth in the last ten games and the team is 5-11-3 since the beginning of December. Altitude’s Mark Rycroft is right to claim, “now is the time to hit the panic button” as the Avalanche are now at risk of losing its wild card spot.
The first two and a half periods of this game were balanced, and it was a battle between two goaltenders having exceptional games. Semyon Varlamov redeemed himself in his second consecutive start, making 28 saves on 30 shots for a .933 save percentage, while Canadien netminder Carey Price blocked all 28 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season.
In the end, it came down to the Canadiens capitalizing on their late-game opportunities while the Avalanche did not. The Avalanche top line was flat, and the team went 0/4 on the powerplay. the team is now one for 15 in the past three games.
When a team’s stars do not perform who is there to pick up the slack? Tonight’s game made clear this Avalanche team needs greater depth in order improve its offense and start to win again prior to All-Star weekend.
As with the previous two games, the Avalanche started the game strong and initially outshot the Canadiens 4-1. Five minutes into the first period, the Avalanche received the initial powerplay opportunity which was nullified via an interference call against J.T. Compher. Thankfully, the Canadiens’ powerplay unit is a horrific 31st in the NHL and did not pose a threat for the Avs’ penalty kill.
Mikko Rantanen was the second Av in the penalty box for slashing with 8:48 remaining. The Avs’ penalty kill remained steadfast and the Canadiens’ poor power-play performance continued. Tyson Jost had the Avs’ best scoring opportunity, but was robbed by the quick glove of Carey Price.
The second period began like the first, with the Avs’ top line pressuring the Canadiens early with four shots on goal in the first three minutes. However, the Canadien netminder remained square to the puck and made the stops. Likewise, Varlamov turned away a series of shots to keep the game at zeros. A huge open-ice hit by Ian Cole resulted in a post-play scrap to give the Avs their second powerplay. Despite doubling their first period’s shots with 14, and throwing everything in the kitchen along with the sink, nothing was getting past Price.
In the third, the Avs continued to have opportunities in the slot and consistently crashed the net. Cole drew another penalty at 3:35. The Canadiens’ forecheck pick-pocketed the puck from MacKinnon and almost resulted in a Montreal goal.
Only moments later, a clean face-off in the Avalanche zone and a weak wrist shot from the point by Brett Kulak gave Montreal the short-handed goal as Varly responded late.
After the shorthanded goal, the Avalanche lost their focus and the Canadiens punished them by continuing to maintain possession in the Avalanche zone. Things went from bad to worse for the visitors as Montreal scored their second tally on a Jesperi Kotkaniemi one-timer two minutes after their first to make it 2-0.
Jordie Benn put in the empty-netter from his own zone to make it 3-0 with about a minute left to seal the win.
With Coach Jared Bednar confronted with choosing between two goaltenders in a slump, Semyon Varlamov got the consecutive start and performed like his old self tonight. Except for the soft opening goal by Kulak, Varly had an exceptional night.
Colin Wilson was back in the lineup after missing eight games with a shoulder injury. Mark Barberio returned after a 19-game absence to play in front of a hometown crowd.
Nothing more can really be said of the rest of the team’s performance. The top line of Rantanen, MacKinnon, and Landeskog did not perform at the level they have been this season and the remainder of the team followed suit. That’s how the team is constructed, and there’s nothing that can really be changed right now, unfortunately.
Carey Price, the goaltender with the second-most wins in Montreal history, played a huge part in the Canadiens’ victory by keeping the score at zero and helping shift the balance of play in the third. The Habs look to continue winning ways against Boston Bruins on Monday away from home.
On the Road Again...
The Avalanche move their road trip to Ontario to visit the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night (5 P.M. MT) prior to ending their away stint in the Canadian capital against the Senators on Wednesday.